Signs Preceding the End of the World

by Yuri Herrera. And Other Stories, 2015. 128 pages.

Over the weekend, while at a friend’s house, he and I began talking about books we’ve been reading. We’re both readers, teachers, book nerds, whatever, and our conversations range from fantasy to philosophy, from George R.R. Martin to Martin Heidegger. They’re great conversations, but usually don’t include assertions like this one: “It is one of the best books I’ve read in 20 years.” Whoa. That is exactly what he said. And then he gave me the book–which I immediately opened, heart beating quickly, and which he immediately shut. His partner, who I had just met and who had also read the book, simply said, “Read it in one sitting. That’s the best.”

And so I did–I read it on the plane-trip home. I read it quickly. I devoured it. I was swept away by it. With headphones in and book in hand, I forgot I was on a plane.

Herrera’s novel starts in a place where the land might sink immediately beneath your feet and concludes at the end of the world, in an underworld of sorts, for the novel’s protagonist Makina–a resourceful, wise, and courageous young woman who has been sent from her village in Mexico across the border to find her brother who left and has not returned.

And while the book is quite short, nine chapters in 128 pages, it has the depth of poetry and mythology. Borders exist politically and internally, languages collide and hybridize, and, in part thanks to Lisa Dillman’s fantastic translation, the world, everywhere, is rendered new. Makina verses from place to place throughout her odyssey–she never stops, she is continually crossing; even in the few flashbacks to her earlier life, where she manages, like Mercury, a phone switchboard, she is moving people’s voices to where they need to go.

This book, now in the MA library, is a great read over a weekend and I suspect will last in your imagination and memory for some time. I give this novel more than five stars–in fact, next time it is clear and dark outside, just look up.

One thought on “Signs Preceding the End of the World

  1. Thanks for this great review! Hope your students love it too. We’ve got a new book by Yuri Herrera coming out next spring, The Transmigration of Bodies – keep an eye out for it!

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